There are few things that can burden the soul like suffering from an illness that never seems to improve, or finding oneself suddenly disabled and calling out to God for the healing that seems to be promised in the Scriptures.
When the healing never comes, a sense of deep disappointment sets in, and many Christians resolve to never pray again, feeling what's the use. From Chicago, this is The Moody Church Hour, a weekly service of worship and teaching with Pastor Erwin Lutzer. Today, we conclude a series on the triumph of unanswered prayer, and our focus on this broadcast will be from the book of Hebrews on handling those times when the answer is disappointment. Special guest pianist Ovid Jung joins Moody Church's Scott Griffin at the keyboards to open today's service. Ovid, thank you for joining us today. Ovid, thank you for joining us today. Ovid, thank you for joining us today. Ovid, thank you for joining us today. Ovid, thank you for joining us today. Ovid, thank you for joining us today. Well, you have just heard our own Scott Griffin and Ovid Jung, who's our special guest artist. We welcome you today and your wife, Laura.
Laura, would you stand so that we could welcome you and give you a hand as well? Dr. Jung is a pianist, organist, composer, and conductor. He has more than 7,000 performances to his credit in major concert halls, churches, and college campuses. And you can read more about him in your bulletin today.
Most of us, I think, know about him because of the celebrated piano duo of Nielsen and Jung. So we welcome you today. I want you to take your hymnal, if you would, please, and turn to 215. We're going to be using our hymnals this morning.
215, When Morning Gilds the Skies. Our scripture reading today is by one of our deacons, Evan Price. And he'll be reading, and we have the privilege of participating, as indicated. And then be prepared for 712, Be Still My Soul, and 682, one of my favorite songs, Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. I'm going to pray, and after we have prayed and invited the presence of the Lord to be with us, we will stand and participate in 215. Our Father, we do indeed pray and ask that among us Jesus Christ will be praised, both in song and within our hearts. And most assuredly, we want to offer you today ourselves, and invite your blessed Holy Spirit to direct us, to lead us, and we pray that the blessing of the Lord would be here, for your glory, in Jesus' name, Amen. All praise be to God, Praise Jesus, Let us pray, Hallelujah, Pray, Lord Jesus, Let us pray, Praise Jesus, Let us pray, Praise, The nations of heaven and earth, In this our Father God, May Jesus Christ be praised, Let all the earth come round, Rejoice in the Son, May Jesus Christ be praised, Rejoice in the Son, Let all the earth come round, May Jesus Christ be praised, Let all the earth come round, Let all the earth come round, May Jesus Christ be praised, The reading of God's word from Psalm chapter 34.
Please join me on the bold print. I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord. Let the humble hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants.
None of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. He is still my soul. The Lord is on my side. Where faith should be, the cross of grief or pain. Into my heart, through my ear and my heart. In every change, be faithful in me. He is still my soul.
He is still my heart. Where faith should be, the cross of grief or pain. In every change, be faithful in me.
Where faith should be, the cross of grief or pain. He is still my soul. In every change, be faithful in me.
The sacred land, where faith shall be condemned. In every change, be faithful in me. In every change, be faithful in me.
Where faith shall be, the cross of grief or pain. In every change, be faithful in me. In every change, be faithful in me. In every change, be faithful in me. In every change, be faithful in me. He is still my strength and strength. In my strength, the words of joy.
In my interest, here's a sign. Hear me through the swelling cloud. Let me sing of pain and sorrow. Soft and brazen, soft and brazen, I will never defeat.
I will never defeat. Affirm the foundation, ye saints of the Lord. It is laid for your faith in his excellent Word. But, Lord, can he say then to you he hath said to you, for refuge to Jesus hath fled. Fear not, I am with thee, O he that is made. For I am thy God, I will still give thee aid. Your strength in me helped me and caused me to stand.
O hell, by my patience, only important land. When through joy, rejoice, your love, my pleasure, grace shall bear. I supply my grace, my strength shall bear, my strength shall bear, I supply. The flame shall not burn thee, I hope it is time, I trust to consume, and I want to revive. O soul that on Jesus hath made for me, I will not, I will not, He is there to his voice.
The soul of all that stood in jeopardy to save, I'll never, no never, no never, no save. No word, no word, may he not bear, nor I. I'm sure it's true to say that one of the greatest disappointments that you can ever experience in life is the disappointment of unanswered prayer. If you were to ask the question why there are so many Christians who are cynical, they would tell you some story about how God did not intervene when they needed him, sometimes when they needed him the most. We've all had the experiences, you know, you pray for finances and then something happens, maybe you even lose your job and you say, well, that's not the answer I was seeking. You pray for protection and sometimes God gives it to you and then at other times there are accidents and we call on God. One day I was on a plane and there were some other Christians there and they said, oh, Pastor Lutzer, we're so glad that you're on this plane with us because if we had turbulent weather, we know that you have connections and you can probably get the turbulence to stop. I said, no.
I said, I'm just in sales, not in management. But the question, where is God when we need him? But I suppose that the deepest disappointment that people ever feel has to do with the divine healing. When you see a child suffer, when you see a young mother die of cancer, leaving three children behind, it is at times like this that our faith becomes so eroded, we wonder whether we can go on believing. Barbara Sanderville, quadriplegic, said these words, knowing God had the power to heal me, but wouldn't, made me very bitter. I would read passages like Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter accusing God of holding the promise of healing before me like a piece of meat before a starving dog. He tempted me with the possibility, but never enabled me to reach it.
That's why people are turned off. God does not come through for them. Well, as you know, this is the sixth and last in a series of messages, the triumph of unanswered prayer. And what we've been doing is seeing the triumph when prayer doesn't happen, when the answer is denied, when it's disguised.
I hope that you get that message because that one emphasizes what it is like to worship God, even if the answer isn't there. Today, we're going to turn to Hebrews chapter 11, and we're going to see that God does miracles for some people and not for others. And yet he expects us to go on believing anyway. Hebrews chapter 11 is the passage of scripture, and I would like to give you today four facts about faith. Four facts about faith that we hope will put all of this into perspective, that will enable all of us to go on believing and honoring God with our faith. Because the Bible says that when we have faith, we presented to Jesus at his appearing, the trial of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. First fact about faith. Faith sometimes changes our circumstances. You look at Hebrews chapter 11, and it is filled with heroes who saw huge miracles.
We could talk about Abraham. We could always speak more clearly even in terms of miracles about Moses. That begins in verse 23. But let me simply pick it up at verse 29, speaking about Moses. By faith, the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land.
But the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. What a miracle. Moses stands there with his staff in his hand and God parts the waters.
And then if that isn't enough in terms of miracles, by faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. And we could go on and on. And the author knows that he could go on and on. So he says in verse 32, And what more shall I say? There was a pastor who was preaching an interminably long message. And he got to this phrase and says, Yes, and what more shall I say? And someone in the back row said, Try Amen.
Ever since that time, I keep my eye on the folks in the back row. He knows that he could go on for a bit. So he says, And what more shall I say? Time would fail to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women receive back their dead by resurrection. You talk about miracles and you've got dozens of them in this passage. Think of the different kinds of miracles who are here are women who receive their dead back as it was during the days of Elijah. Talk about a resurrection. Talk about a healing. You have miracles that have to do with the protection of God's people.
Stop the mouths of lions, a reference to Daniel. You've got healed relationships and you've got all kinds of battles that were fought. And God miraculously gave the victory. Sometimes faith changes our circumstances.
Please keep that in mind. But number two, in terms of the facts, are these. Sometimes faith does not change our circumstances. Did you notice, and I hope that all of you have your Bibles open, but did you notice that I stopped reading in the middle of verse 35? Now, normally I don't stop in the middle of a verse, but here I did because there is a break in the middle of the verse. You have to understand that when the manuscripts of the New Testament were written, they did not have chapters or verse divisions. Those were added later to make it easier to find various passages. And I think that the person who gave the verse divisions here should have begun a new verse in the middle of verse 35.
But he didn't. And so that's where I stopped because the text is open. There it is. Middle of verse 35.
All right. Women received back their dead by resurrection, but some. Oh, there's another category. Some were tormented, refusing to accept release so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn in two. They were killed with a sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins being destitute, afflicted, mistreated, of whom the world was not worthy, wandering about in deserts and mountains and dens and caves in the earth. And we might add, and there was no deliverance.
None. They were sawed in two, he says. That's a reference to Isaiah, the great prophet. Wasn't he a person of faith?
Why didn't God come to his deliverance, may I ask? It's a reference to that prophet. And then when he goes on talking about wandering about with goatskins and trying to live in caves and in poverty and being persecuted, very probably a reference to the time of the Maccabees.
There was a man by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes who went into Egypt and then came into the land of Israel. And he offered a sow on the altar to insult the Jews. And then he began a horrendous persecution. Eleazar was the high priest and he skinned the high priest alive. I will not even tell you what he did with Eleazar's seven sons because it's too gruesome.
But just know that he dismembered them in some very, very torturous ways. Where was God when that was happening? Let me ask you. Faith sometimes changes our circumstances. Sometimes it doesn't change our circumstances. Now, that was then. What about today?
Let's fast forward it. We always think that the time when the church was persecuted is the early centuries. Let me be clear about something. More people have died as Christian martyrs in the last 35 to 50 years than ever died in the persecutions of early Rome. Thousands of people have been put to death. There's a magazine that I get and Rebecca said to me, she asked me recently whether or not I read it. And I have to confess, not too often, but I should read it often. It's called The Voice of the Martyrs, begun by Richard Wurmbrand, who has spoken here at The Moody Church, by the way, and who was imprisoned in Romania many years ago under communism. But this magazine details all the persecutions around the world. Yesterday, I read the story of a young man by the name of Lorenzo, newly married, 22 years old, goes into a village and is identified as being a Christian, asked to dig his own grave, which he does, pleading, pleading for his release. And after his grave is dug, a noose is put around his neck and he is strangled to death and left in the grave to die. It's happening today in countries of the world.
Under communism, yes. Under some countries in Islam, your brothers and sisters are crying up to God for deliverance. And they're not seeing the walls of Jericho fall.
They're not seeing the Red Sea as it parts. What they are doing is they are crying up to God and saying, God, where are you? Save our families.
Deliver us. And for the most part, they see very little deliverance, though there are some surprising stories of God's intervention. Faith sometimes changes our circumstances.
Sometimes it doesn't. You know, we love to tell the story of Daniel, who closed the mouths of lions, and it's a true story. But my wife and I, Rebecca, we've been to Rome and we've walked through the Circus Maximus, where all those Christians did die and they were thrown to animals. And there was no one there. There was no angel that came out of heaven to close the mouths of those hungry beasts.
And they were torn in two. Faith sometimes changes our circumstances. Sometimes faith does not change our circumstances. Number three, faith never judges God by circumstances. Faith never judges God by circumstances. Faith never says, well, God, since you haven't healed that person and since you haven't done what you think I should, I'm out of here.
No. The reason that these people, the second category in Hebrews 11, the reason that they also are in the catalog of faith. When you speak of the heroes of faith, the Westminster Abbey of faith in the 11th chapter of Hebrews, never forget to include the last category that never saw the miracles. But they didn't judge God by circumstances.
They believed that God was doing right by them, even though he does things differently. You have Acts chapter 12, James is beheaded. And then later on, Peter is delivered, both of them in prison, one saved, one not.
I mean, isn't this the way life is? You see deliverance over here and no deliverance over there. But both are heroes of faith.
Sometimes what we need to do is to simply hang on to promises like this. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, for your sake, we are being killed all the day long.
We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else. In all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Paul is saying, what will separate you from Christ's love? Will being killed do it? No, the sword won't do it. Will sickness do it?
The sickness won't do it. Can angels do it? Angels can't do it. Can demons do it?
Demons can't do it. And you keep believing no matter what. Some of you haven't been taking notes yet. God bless you.
A few of you have. We actually help you, don't we, by giving you my outline in the bulletin. Do you like that? By the way, I do that for you every blessed week.
But here's what I'd like you to write down. Faith isn't merely receiving from God what we want. Sometimes faith is simply accepting whatever God gives us. Faith is accepting whatever God gives us.
That also is faith. Look at Jesus in Gethsemane. See there, Father, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me, Jesus, please.
See him there. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. An angry, bitter woman said to her pastor, So where was your God when my son was killed?
And he said he was in the same place where he was when his son was killed. Faith accepts whatever God gives us. We commit ourselves to God and then we leave the decision with him. Yesterday, to be more clear, last week when I preached on what commitment means, and I hope that you are here to hear that, when I preached on what commitment means and how we commit ourselves to God, someone asked me later a very good question. They said, well, does that just mean we commit everything to God and then don't pray anymore? Listen, when you and I commit something to God, we'll pray more about it than we ever have, but our prayers will be filled with thanksgiving and praise and a sense of confidence that it's off our shoulders and it's on God's. The true Christian does not believe that there's no value in prayer unless you see an answer that you would like to see. Prayer has other values as we've been trying to help each other to understand.
Prayer means that I draw near to God with my need. I come preoccupied with my need, but I leave preoccupied with God, and I believe that what God does in me is sometimes more important than what God does for me, as he teaches me faith, as he teaches me love, even when I don't see the miracles. Faith never judges God by miracles, or I should say never judges God by circumstances. Number four, faith always leads to ultimate victory.
It always leads to ultimate victory. I'm back now in just a moment looking at Hebrews chapter 11 again. By the way, faith always leads to ultimate victory. Yes, Hebrews chapter 11. I want to give you an illustration of how people of faith accept disappointment.
How do they do it, and why is it that they can ultimately be blessed even though they don't see the miracle they desire? Let me read you a story that is very familiar to all of you. It's found in the book of Daniel, and it has to do with three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Bible school, we used to say, shake the bed, make the bed, and into bed you go.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The king says to them, bow down before this image. If you do not bow down before this image, I will throw you into the fiery furnace. By the way, something not quite like that, but something approaching it could end up being our lot as well. But this is what they say.
I love this. Oh, Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. In other words, there's no use even discussing this. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But now notice. But if not, be it known unto you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. God can deliver us if he wants to, but if he doesn't, we will be people who die in faith believing that God knows best. Are you to that point in your Christian experience? Oh, God, we know that you are able to heal so and so.
We know that you're able to take care of this situation. But if you don't, let angels and demons and anyone else around me know that I will not swerve in my commitment to you because faith isn't merely receiving from God the things that I want. Faith is the ability to receive whatever God gives me. Let it be known that I'll continue to believe. You say, well, what does the text mean when it talks about faith leading to ultimate victory?
I'm still in chapter 11 and I'm in verse 39. All these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised. Since God had provided something better for us that apart from us, they should not be made perfect.
What's going on there in the text? First of all, they died in faith and they didn't receive what was promised. As we mentioned in an earlier message, Abraham did not see the fulfillment of the promises that God gave him. God says, Abraham, you're going to have a land and you're going to have that land. I'm going to give it to you and to your prosperity. Prosperity, I think I mean to say. But he also promised him prosperity. Yes, that's right. You know, sometimes when you're speaking, you get your mings fixed up and you begin backing talkwords.
It happens every once in a while. He says, Abraham, you're going to have children and they're going to inherit it. But this land is yours. And he has to buy a plot of ground to bury his wife, Sarah, cave of MacPhela. So there's Abraham. He's dying without seeing the fulfillment of the promises. Moses dies and his sins are forgiven most assuredly, but he's not seeing the fulfillment of all of the promises. Jesus hasn't come yet. That's why the text says that without us, they couldn't be made perfect. I mean, if you were here when I preached about this just at Founders Week, you'll notice that I preached about how people were saved in the Old Testament.
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